Having been a faculty member within the Johnson & Wales University College of Hospitality Management in Providence for 25-plus years, I try to incorporate the ideals of hospitality—using the dictionary definition, “cordial and generous reception of guests”—as a guideline into nearly every daily experience (often without realizing it—it’s almost second nature)—with students, colleagues, friends, and family. However, imagine my surprise when I noticed that the new minister at my church was presenting a sermon on this very topic—hospitality. Naturally, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to attend, and, of course, introduce myself and our college to her. What I didn’t expect, but received, was a newfound appreciation for the spirit of hospitality and some tips to incorporate into my classes and my life.
Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed. In fact, her “Point of Welcome or A Secret History of I-95” was actually inspirational. She related the beginning of her new ministry to the situation when anyone goes somewhere new for the first time. “People come in not knowing others, unsure of their welcome, unsure if they belong, sometimes unsure if they even want to belong, sometimes careful of wounds from the past, sometimes mindful that inside or out they may not seem like those they see around them.” It reminded me that each term, particularly in the fall, we meet new students (often freshmen, international students, or transfers) who probably feel exactly like this.
Her message revolved around what she termed, the “sacred task of hospitality and the sacred gifts that come with hospitality well-offered and well-received.” Although I’d never thought of hospitality quite that way—as sacred—it makes sense. As she noted, when we welcome a stranger, we too are changed by the experience. It caused me to pause and think about how frequently this happens and how often we take it for granted rather than celebrating the experience. Her term for this is “deep welcome” which makes possible “trust, connection, relationship, community, even love, even justice, even peace.”
Of course, actually figuring out how to provide this “deep welcome” isn’t always easy—worthwhile surely—however, it’s often downright challenging. She suggested that we learn “to see with another’s eyes”—only in this way can we learn from others’ different experiences and understandings.
She concluded by comparing welcome to grace—“a favor, gift, or indulgence freely bestowed by one who need not do so” or, as songwriter David Wilcox stated, “grace is the bridge that is built to us from the other side.”
Hmmm … built from the other side? Interesting concept. In other words, this “deep welcome,” warm welcome, the true spirit of hospitality—whatever terms we choose—is what we should all strive to provide on a daily basis simply because this is truly how we connect.
We welcome and we are welcomed—seems simple enough in theory. So, what are some practical ways we can accomplish this on a daily basis? Maybe, it’s as simple as the Golden Rule. Remember, no gesture is too small to be appreciated.
Although each individual’s experience will be different, here are a few common threads.
- Hold an open door for the person behind you.
- Invite someone who is alone to join you for dinner, a holiday, or just coffee.
- Send old-fashioned note cards rather than emails for birthdays, as thank-you notes, sympathy cards, or as congratulations or for other celebratory events.
- Turn off your electronic devices in public venues, especially when you’re enjoying someone else’s company.
- Acknowledge someone when they come to your office door, rather than stare at your computer or remain on your phone.
- Use a person’s name. (This is definitely a skill that requires practice if you are dealing with large numbers!)
- Help out with directions—provide a map, or, better yet, accompany them part of the way.
- Make the time to meet with people needing assistance—and value their time.
- Support teams, clubs, events by being actively involved.
- Provide opportunities for relevant experiences—field trips, guest speakers.
- Be a willing lender—a stapler, pencil, pen, tape, paper.
- If you can walk (after all, it’s good exercise) allow others to park closer to the building.
- Offer a seat on local transportation if you’re getting off at a nearby stop or if someone obviously is in need.
- Assist with groceries or shopping.
- Embrace different opinions and experiences.
- Volunteer for a cause about which you’re passionate—nonprofits always need an extra pair of hands.
- Send flowers just because!
Be creative, add some of your own favorites to the list, and feel the spirit of generosity—create your own sense of hospitality. Enjoy!